Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tomorrow's Bahamas depends on today's Bahamian

tribune242 editorial

Nassau, Bahamas

TODAY WE hear so much about outsiders -- particularly Haitians--insinuating themselves into our society in such large numbers that they will eventually take over the country and push Bahamians into the background.

Before we consider the validity of that claim, let's take a moment to discover who Bahamians really are. Each and every one of us claims to be Bahamian. For example, The Tribune family is fourth generation Bahamian, entering into a sixth generation. Others go back much further than that, but together we all regard ourselves as native Bahamians. However, each of us has come to this country by a different route, at a different time and for different reasons.

When the forebears of today's Bahamians arrived they were foreigners. Many did not even speak the same language, some formed small communities and stayed to themselves, keeping their own language and history alive among their children. However, eventually after a generation or two they all meshed seamlessly into a society with which they identified and called their own. They are today's Bahamians.

None of us can trace our roots back to the Lucayans who Columbus found here when he put this small country on the map in 1492. And so none of us can claim to be the true original.

Wrote the late Dr Paul Albury in The Story of the Bahamas: "After the Lucayans were taken away to slavery and death, a human silence settled over the Bahamas. The forests once again claimed the land which they had cleared to build their houses, to grow their crops and to lay their batos. It was as if the Island People had never existed."

No matter how far back one goes in their lineage today no Bahamian can claim a link to a Lucayan. But we consider ourselves the real McCoy -- the true Bahamian.

Much history passed between then and the granting of these islands -- first to Sir Robert Heath in 1629 and later to the Eleutheran Adventurers in 1647. Eventually slavery was introduced.

With the passage of history, much of it filled with human tragedy, today's Bahamian and our mixed society was formed. This society's roots go way back into Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas -- almost every ethnic group is represented, including the Haitian -- but nowhere is the Lucayan to be found.

The reason that the Haitians have created such a problem for the Bahamas today is that they have arrived in such large numbers, and, other than their labour, and a willingness to learn, they have little to offer. They have even less to offer when so many of them are illegal and cannot fully participate in the society. Even Bahamians of Haitian heritage find their presence an embarrassing strain on our social services.

It is for this reason that the Haitian question should be high on the agenda after the next election. Those Haitians with jobs and family ties should be regularised so that they can contribute to the society in which they live by paying national insurance, opening bank accounts, being able to get a mortgage to purchase their own homes and generally do business in a normal way. Decisions have to be made about the future of children born here of Haitian parents, who attend school, know no other country, and think of themselves as Bahamians. They are in the same position in this country as were the forebears of each us at some stage of our personal history.

It depends upon how we treat them today as to what kind of citizens they will make tomorrow. If they are not assimilated into the society, then, yes, possibly as time passes they will take over.

Bahamians have fought long and hard for a unified society -- a One Bahamas. This is no time to fracture it further by introducing another equation of inequality for the future.

No one wants our children and grandchildren to have to face a new Bahamian with an inferiority complex, a chip on the shoulder or, one who is ready in every encounter to show a clenched fist and quietly plot an overthrown. One doesn't have to look too far around the world today to find examples of what could happen if we don't tread carefully in considering this human problem.

Therefore, the Haitian question has to be debated, carefully considered and solved as humanely as possible.

Really it is up to today's Bahamian as to what the future holds for tomorrow's Bahamas.

July 13, 2011

tribune242 editorial